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Axis v. Allied Fighter Pilots Discussion

Originally published by Aviation History magazine. Published Online: September 03, 2008 
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German World War II ace of aces Erich Hartmann was credited with 352 victories, while the leading Allied Ace, Soviet pilot Ivan Kozhedub had 62. What do you think accounts for the disparity between Axis and Allied fighter victory tallies? Enter your thoughts in the Comments section below.


22 Responses to “Axis v. Allied Fighter Pilots Discussion”


  1. 1
    kenneth says:

    well that means that germany had better pilots.

  2. 2
    Andrew Dyck says:

    I think that at the beginning of the war, Germany had the best pilots due to the fact that a lot of the pilots already had experience from the Spanish civil war. In the middle of the war, when America entered, production was slow and America lacked trained pilots or a trained military for that matter. Underestimated by the Germans, American military might and production took off and never looked back. American airplane production grew to 1 plane made every four minutes. The British pilots recieved their baptism of fire during the Battle of Britain. You can come to the conclusion that allied pilots were better towards the end of the war.

  3. 3
    Andrew Dyck says:

    The german pilot by himself was very skilled despite what I said previously. The skill and audacity of the German pilot was overshadowed by the failure of the Luftwaffe and the production of the allies.

  4. 4
    Walt says:

    The difference in kills can best attributed to exaggerated scores. For example, a British aviation historian, Francis K. Mason, examined the claims from both the German and British for the Battle of Britain by using the records of the Luftwaffe and the RAF. He cross referenced the claims right down to the serial numbers of planes. He published his research in the publication, Battle Over Britain (London, 1969).

    His research demonstrated that the Germans claimed three times the number of RAF aircraft actually shot down. He points out that if the Germans had destroyed the three thousand plus planes they claimed, the RAF would have been wiped out several times. The RAF never had that many planes during the entire battle.

    But the exaggeration was not exclusively German. The RAF claimed over 2000 German planes shot down. This was twice the number actually shot down according to German records.

    His research further showed that the top scorer on the British side was actually a Czech pilot who flew with a Polish squadron. I believe his last name was Fratsek.

    In computing the squadron scores, the top squadron during the battle was the 303rd RAF squadron which was an all-Polish unit. Their final score was 117 confirmed kills. The second highest scorer was the 501 RAF squadron which was a British unit with 87 confirmed kills. Mason found that he had to discount many of the British claims because they could not be substantiated through German or British records. Interestingly, the Poles were very strict with their pilots when it came to claims and their claims were all verified through German records. No exaggeration!

    Elsewhere on this site is an audio by the historian John Chadwick who points out in his research that the Poles were very strict in allowing their pilots to claim kills. He talks about how during the invasion of Poland, the Poles shot down 285 German planes; however, the Poles tended to underclaim the number of planes they show down because of their strict rules. (No, the Polish Air Force was not destroyed in the first days of the war. German propaganda!)

    Finally, the Poles were excellent, highly trained pilots who were exceptional marksmen. In an aerial gunnery contest sponsored by the RAF after the Battle of Britain, The first three places were won by the 303rd Sq., 316 Sq. and the 315th Sq. in that order. They are all Polish units. The 303rd won with a score of 808 points out of a thousand. Air Marshall T. Leigh-Mallory was humiliated by the results.

    PS The German ace Joachim Marseilles claimed a high kill score against the RAF in North Africa. Research conducted several years ago casts great doubt on his claims because he claimed to have shot down RAF fighters where none were operational.

  5. 5
    Robert Mackenzie says:

    The high scores of so many have a lot to do with superb training (at least in the first years of the war) , the target-rich environment over Russia and the "Fly 'til you die" policy of the Luftwaffe.
    Even Gunther Rall , who has sadly just died said that getting transferred to the west and having his thumb shot off by a Thunderbolt probably saved his life and gave him 65 more years to live.

  6. 6
    Paul Davies says:

    Some of the posts are accurate; however you cannot generalise. It is true that on average, the German pilots had more experience in training and in combat from the Spanish civil war, Poland, Belgium, Norway and France, etc, before the Battle of Britain, where they conquered those air forces in inferior aircraft with better tactics, formations, armament and skills learned in earlier combats. The RAF with the help of COMMONWEALTH and Polish, Czech and other Allied pilots, stopped them when using equal equipment in the Spitfire and to an extent, the Hurricane.However, the claims are also sometimes wildy optimistic, see Marseille with 17 claimed in 1 combat in the Desert war, and Galland and Molders and Wick, to name a few, in the Battle of Britain. Some kills claimed were actually crash landed and repaired to fight again, we call these damaged or Probable kills; however the RAF also overclaimed but not by as much a factor.
    Our allied aces like Pat Hughes, Pat Pattle and Lock, Davies and others bear comparison for high scoring rates in Battle with the likes of Galland and others. I also find it convenient that Luftwaffe records are not available; due to Allied bombing! all the above still does not diminish my admiration for the skill of the German aces or how hard they fought;especially in the last 6 months of the war when defending their own homes, as our gallant pilots did over Britain in 1940. As I say, you cannot generalise and some german scores can be verified better than others, but our allied aces and pilots put up a remarkable performance given that at the start they had not the same experience, tactics or training; nor the amount of aircraft that the Axis forces had in opposition to us.
    To read better opinions on this see the Battle of Britain Historical Society notes on the german and allied aces comperisons.

    Paul Davies

    • 6.1
      Martin says:

      I agree in general terms. When you look at the sheer # of missions / sorties the German Pilots flew, it appears that many times they had their hands full staying alive. I have no problem with a pilot shooting down 200 planes in 2,000 missions. Francis Gabreski shot down planes at the same rate as some of the Luftwaffe aces, but he only flew a comparative handful of missions. Japanese aqnd German pilots flew till they were killed / incompacitated or until the war ended. German pilots realized that to live and fight another day, they could amass scores / glory and serve their country better. Japanese pilots were much more "pell-mell" if you would, tended to throw caution to the wind and were to eager to accept death. And I'm not just talking about Kamikaze ops. I wonder what kind of scores some of the US / British pilots would have run up if they flew 1,000 to 2,000 missions in a target rich environment?
      Cheers!
      Martin

  7. 7
    Paul Davies says:

    Compare Galland, Molders, Wick, Lutzow, Hans-Karl Mayer, Priller and others in the top 30 german aces in 1940 with allied aces when you addd up the probable kills on top of these accredited scores below would give some 40 odd kills which is near the score average for these above.
    Scores generally accepted vary but are usually given as these below;
    End 1940 totals for Allied aces;
    Lacey 23, Allard 23, Lock 22, Crossley 22, Mckellar 21, Dutton 19, McMullen 17.5, H M Stephen 18, Malan 18-19, Tuck 18, A G Lewis 18, Frantisek 17, Gray 16.5, Hallowes 17-18, Urbanowicz 17, Carbury 15.5, Doe 15, P C Hughes 15.5, McDowall 14, Dundas 13.3, J T Webster 14, Currant 14, Bader 12, McKnight 16.5, Kaine 17, Orton 18 and others, if we also add probables and damaged; we would have aces ranking similar to Galland 58 (end 1940 all these also) Wick 56 (KIA),Molders 55, Oesau 39, Balthaser 31, Joppien 31, Mayer 38, Priller 20, Ebeling 18, Pingel 15, Sprick 20, Machold 28, Schopfel 22, Lignitz 18, Krahle 15, Schnell 20, Lutzow 15, Schmidt 18, Hans Phillipp 20, Hrabak 16, H Ekhard Bob 18, Ihlefeld 25, Jabs 20, Bar 13-17 and others. These were all highly trained and dangerous foes but some claims seen falling smoking or spinning did live to fight again and the german pilots could not sit and watch every one crash in the heat of combat; nor could our allied aces for that matter; scores were not the issue, survival was.

    Paul Davies

  8. 8
    Rolf Zydek says:

    Has anyone ever followed that all so called german "aces" flew between
    650 – 1200 missions throughout the war to gain their "success".

    How many missions did allied pilots flew ????

    25 – 50 max ?! I guess

    The other question : How many allied planes stood against axxis planes. I do remember that from the russian IL-2 Shturmovik alone about 33.000 were built not to count the many B-17's,B-24's,P 51,P-47's just to name a few.

    Compare the top 10 aces allied to axxis via their missions they flew.

    All german aces had ammassed about 800 – 1100 missions each
    between 1936 – 1945.

  9. 9
    Malcolm Duncan says:

    Did the early German fighter planes not have gun camera?

  10. 10
    Dean says:

    I think it was because of the quality of aircraft/training. The German Pilots had more time practicing, while the other air forces other than England weren't flying as often and were usually flying slow, obsolete aircraft. When you add the fact some of those could be air to ground kills its no surprise the German Aces had such high scores. A Me-109 could easily take out a Gloster Gladiator…!

  11. 11
    daniel says:

    German pilots had better flying experience and tactical handling, many flew with Lufthansa, fought at Spain -Condor Legion- and they developed the famous "fingers four"- But the Brits got the radar, which allowed them a great handicap during the Battle of Britain, which Lufwaffe lost because they stopped attacking the radar stations and the airbases. Afterwards the allies developed/increased their training programs which were better than the used by the Germans, and the Japanese. The Allies had to learn the trade but they did it.

  12. 12
    TL Rouhier says:

    I read an artical by a German mechanic, this was in the 50's. He worked on one of Germany's top aces plane. He stated that after one mission over Britian the pilot claimed 3 kills. The only problem with that was that the tape was still over the guns. How could he have gotten any kills?

  13. 13
    Eduardo sosa says:

    according to a book made by two american officers, Hartmann could certifie every shoot down with witnesses and official records comming from the enemy. the germans where in this form very strict to credit every kill. as others have said before, many of the kills where made while the victim did not know that he had an enemy behind, he ambushed almost every kill, he did not like much getting involved in dogfights, but if he had to do it, he could manage well since he was never shot down by enemy aircraft. this coudl be proved in a way when he encountered a squadron of 8 P-51s and none of them could made a shot in his plane. he had to bailed out because he ran out of fuel in the fight and could not return to base. there are many things to be said abotu his skills in flight.

  14. 14
    aguia says:

    It's not fair to make comparisons based on the mere number of kills. Number of missions is the main reason. German pilots kept flying until they were killed, captured or severely wounded. Hartman flew over 850 combat missions and over a thousan sorties. If you check the kill per combat sortie ratio, allies and german pilots have similar performances. Americans rotated out after a limited number of flights and then trained younger pilots. They also flew longer tactical missions, with less targets, instead of short combat sorties. Im not saying german aces performances are not as impressive as they seem! They also survived all those combat missions, some of them got shot down a dozen times and kept on flying the next day.

  15. 15
    mb says:

    French pilots were also very good.

  16. 16
    Barrie Rodliffe says:

    There was a lot of exaggeration, Like the Me 262 pilot Kurt Welter who claimed 27 Mosquito`s, including 25 at night without radar, RAF records only show 3 that were lost and he might have shot them down.
    Another instance is when Spitfires were escorting B 17`s and the B 17 pilots claimed 25 Bf 109`s shot down, the escorting Spitfires all returned to base without sighting any Bf 109`s but some of the Spitfires had a few bullet holes.

  17. 17
    chris bright says:

    Wiki states that Indian RAF squadron 319 had the highest number of kills during the war and that Kozedub of the Russian air force the highest individual score at 62 The British flyers partied all night and often flew with acute hangovers. The Luftwaffe pilots did not. The Polish RAF flyers were outstanding.

  18. 18
    Paul Davies says:

    1./ The top RAF fighter Squadron for WW2 was 249 Squadron on account of fighting continuously from the Battle of Britain, on to Malta in early 1941 which was an intensive war zone, then through the Invasion of Sicily Italy, seeing more action as well right throughout the war.
    2./ The Russian scores are not to be classed the same as German or British or Allied scoring systems.
    3./ Kohzedub is the top Allied pilot with 64 but the top RAF ace is thought now to have been Sqn. Ldr. M.T. St. John \Pat\ Pattle DFC.(Score quoted at 41 and also 50 or more). RAF did NOT all \ Party!\

  19. 19
    Paul Davies says:

    Indian Squadrons were largely used towards the end of the war and did not have time to amass scores like 249, 92, 303, 609 or many other fighter squadrons used throughout the war.
    Fighter ace scores will be largely revised after the last veteran pilots are no longer here, correcting widely held lists and books by notable authors like Chris Shores. Whilst scores are not important, for historical accuracy it is right we get close, as the Americans and others have corrected downwards wartime credits for scores. WW1 had the same problem:Mannock score was corrected twice. Bishop also in doubt. These men will still be respected and still excite interest in future research. Some scores were exaggerated for medals, promotions and glory(Not by many, but by some). Some victories were claimed in good faith whereas in reality they could not stop and watch a falling aircraft until it crashed. Many were claimed by several others, unknown, or known to the other, but still claimed as if made on their own, again by error or deliberately to get medals, etc. A fighter shot down at 24000 feet could be fired on by 4 different pilots on the way down, unseen by number 1 to fire. This showed as multiple claims and also inflated scores compared to those acknowledged post war. I still take exception to the fact that Luftwaffe losses are hard to verify due to the bombing of records. Too many times this is an excuse. Has anyone ever worked out the total production, in service figures for Luftwaffe total aircraft, at any given times or as a whole? Then deducted those acknowledged as lost, say in the Battle of Britain period? Then worked out where the missing ones are in number or by werke No and when written off subsequently? There are huge anomalies in those claimed shot down of the Luftwaffe but also in those admitted lost and then those scrapped at the end of the war. There are hidden gaps where aircraft disappeared with \Records lost in Bombing\ excuses. Some claims will be wrong for example as Marseilles claim for 17 in 1 day and several in 1 combat where very few match these claims and several pilots also claimed that day. Likewise some of the top RAF pilots scores do not match up. What is important is that we remember the deeds of these men, what they achieved and also how skilfully and hard they fought for what they believed in at the time. Generally, most claims were made in good faith and some errors were as a result of confusion in air fighting. Fire seen in an aircraft going down, looks conclusive;Claim-Destroyed. Aircraft could have had fire got under control and landed, aircraft repaired and therefore claim not match a loss. In 1940, many German pilots dived with full power and left a black smoke trail from exhausts, these were claimed when in reality they were escaping sometimes. Some German leaders had wingmen recording their kills and times and confirming these. These are fairly accurate but again sometimes rank, status, medals and promotion got in the way of what actually happened. Many were mistaken. The worst claims were Japanese, French and a few others. American and Luftwaffe late war victories were fairly accurate on the whole, less so in early war periods. Also the RAF constantly changed its credit system for allowing a kill and also its categories. Some wartime lists showed RAF pilots like Clostermann with 33, Malan with 35 and so on. These included sometimes, shares as whole kills, Probables also and sometimes, as in Clostermann`s case, ground kills as air kills as the French scoring system showed differently. Post war he was shown to have around 19 victories, plus many probables and ground victories. Including his shares added up, as the Americans do to fractions IE 21.75 We show this as 19 individual, 4 shared with 1 other pilot and 3 shared with 2 other pilots for the RAF in revised scoring. Some theatres were vastly overclaimed in like Malta, Battle of Britain and less so like in the Battle for Germany where crashed USAF aircraft and RAF could be counted and verified or in many cases disallowed even when these crashed, if the AA had a claim;Just to encourage them. Some Squadron Intelligence Officers were more accurate and strict. 66 Sqn extremely strict. Some others were less so, and again were highly publicized Wings or Squadrons, for example at Biggin Hill and Propaganda played a part in these also. By and large, pilots made claims in good faith. Errors and overclaiming still occurs in modern wars and also Friendly fire incidents also. This is inevitable in war where you cannot stop and count wrecks, especially in fast moving combat and in places over the sea.

  20. 20
    chris bright says:

    That is a great over view. I commented earlier to the effect that the RAF pilots were often flying with hangovers and if not still under the influence and taking Benzedrine to offset these symptoms and against fatigue from flying mission after mission. This was argued and I will furnish my source ,'The Battle of Britain' by noted authority, James Holland. This is a must read for those studying this page in aerial combat history. I am in no way attempting to diminish the efforts of the RAF, but as a born and bred Brit and one who served in ground crew RCAF with veterans of this conflict I know that all night partying by the flyers was the rule rather than the exception whereas it was not for the Luftwaffe and the Free Polish flyers

  21. 21
    al-Zughal says:

    Well according to me , as the war in Pacific started earlier and the war mostly consisted of aerial combat , most of american aces were allocated to the marine core . Americans had very few skilled pilots since allies mostly believed in numbers rather than quality (like M4 Shermans ) so it can be said that Germans were more skilled than the allied war machine .



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